Most businesses do not create a marketing plan or do any annual "thinking" about their business. I'm not even going to begin the lecture on that. So let's assume you're one of the few who recognizes the importance of some annual planning. Part of that planning should be a SWOT analysis.
Think of a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis as an annual check up with your physician. It’s preventative medicine. By going through the exercise, you will start with your own business and then look at the market place around you. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors. Opportunities and threats are external factors.
Your goal in doing a SWOT analysis is to capture and communicate, in a very simple format, the key issues your organization needs to keep an eye on over the next 12 months. Naturally, these become the building blocks for your marketing tactics. It’s easy to strategize on how to capitalize on your strengths, but the real marketing genius will come from neutralizing your weaknesses. In many cases, focusing on your own brand (in a later module) will help you put those into perspective. The most urgent of the quadrants is probably the opportunities. Odds are, your strengths will be with you for years. But an opportunity is here now. How do you capitalize on it while it’s still within your grasp?
Remember, the SWOT is not science. It is filled with subjectivity. Use it as a guide, rather than a verbatim mandate.
Keep these in mind:
- Be as objective as possible. It’s difficult to evaluate yourself clearly. Invite others into the process.
- Your SWOT is a snapshot of today. Use it to plan where you want to go tomorrow.
- Be precise in your language. This is not the time for ambiguity.
- Think sound bites. Words and short sentences, not paragraphs.
This is also a great team-building exercise. It will be valuable to you to hear your team’s perspective. If you’re really brave, ask some clients and trusted vendors. You will probably be surprised by at least a couple things that you hear.
What annual check ups do you use? How do you create your plan for the upcoming year?
I don’t mean to sound so sarcastic or surprised but- hah! So that /is/ used in the real world! I think that along with cannibalization were the two things my first marketing professor seemed to emphasize the most.
Drew, good reflection based on SWOT helps people tweak and make needed adjustments. With it you bring new life – without it you find yourself in a pool of dead water.
Great article, Drew. I think for most small companies or independent consultants/freelancers, it would be useful to do a sort of mini-SWOT analysis monthly. It doesn’t need to be as in-depth as your suggestion, but it’s helpful to take an hour or two every month to review your project status, where you are along the timeline of your goals, and any problems you’ve had and how you’ve handled those. This more periodic review is less intimidating than the big yearly one, and makes your annual SWOT analysis much easier, as it becomes a sort of roll-up of all the prior mini-SWOTs.
I agree completely! Mark’s comment is true as well regarding a monthly SWOT analysis to keep the current projects on task. however, I think starting brainstorming for a new client or new project with a SWOT analysis is quite helpful as well. It is one way to get the juices flowing and it is a great way to make sure everyone on the team is on the same page. My favorite marketing professor, Mary Edrington, always called it a situational analysis which is the perfect way to describe the effort. Looking at a company’s or brand’s current situation with all internal and external aspects is crucial to finding the best way to sell it.
I was lead to your post by a Google Alert for “sound bite.” As an unabashed champion of sound bites, I was pleased to find someone else referencing them in a positive way. A rare event for an Alert.
SWOT seems to me it would also be useful to create and update an organization’s crisis plan, especially for smaller businesses. Most not only don’t have a crisis plan, many haven’t even thought systematically about their vulnerability to crisis. SWOT provides increased awareness and is a viable alternative for organizations that will never get around to, or may not need, a more complex plan.
Actually, I would guess it isn’t used that often. Most businesses are so busy putting out fires and dealing with the day in and day out issues, they rarely take the time to either look back or ahead.
But it should be. I’m guessing your professor hadn’t worked in the real world for awhile, or he would have told you that too.
And yet….most businesses do not take time to plan or assess the past. You understand what makes people tick. If someone knows the planning is important — why wouldn’t they do it?
It sounds like you are suggesting that businesses reduce the SWOT to a tactical level monthly and then look at the big picture on an annual basis.
Is that what you’re suggesting?
Do you think an annual planning session/SWOT is enough or would you recommend it more frequently?
Another way to look at it, from a brainstorming point of view is to describe the status quo.
Basically, it is taking a snapshot of that moment in time, in terms of the business. From there, you can see opportunities you might have missed if you’d just jumped in.
If I am understanding you correctly — I think you’re saying that all too often marketing plans are created in a vacuum and aren’t aligned with the company’s overall strategic objectives for the year — yes?
If that’s what you’re saying — I agree. People start marketing plans from the “who should we talk to” not what do we have to get done to be successful. When the marketing (and every other) department builds their planning around the company’s over-arching business objectives — then everyone can march to the same beat.
How often do you implement a SWOT for/with your team/company?
Do you think annually is enough?